By Vlado Damjanovski.
The electronics industry provides one of the most efficient and productive technologies of modern times.
In the late 1940s and after the invention of transistors following WWII, the electronics industry has continued to evolve and develop, from the humble transistor to the latest super microprocessors. The industry has helped convert cameras from the old film type, through tube pick-up devices to the modern electronic counterparts with charge-coupled device (CCD) and now complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technologies. The old standard definition analogue electronic cameras created in the 1960s, with 576 horizontal scan lines (D1 resolution), made way a few years ago for the modern high definition (HD) digital cameras with 1080 horizontal scan lines.
HD is a digital video format used from its source, rather than being converted from analogue into digital, as was the case with DVD media. The HD television format (also known as 1080HD) is the current television standard, with 1920 horizontal x 1080 vertical pixels. Essentially, HD offers five times the pixel count of D1 resolution.
When an HD signal is produced by a camera, it appears as a 1.5Gb/s or 3Gb/s stream, depending on whether it is 1080i (interlaced) or 1080p (progressive). This is huge data traffic coming from a digital camera, impossible to imagine 20 years ago. A new video compression standard, the now common standard H.264 compression (also known as advanced video coding – AVC), was introduced about 12 years ago to enable cameras to transmit and store such large amounts of video data.
However, the latest camera sensor technologies, such as the 4k video, are now offering even larger video formats than HD, with four times the pixel count compared to HD (that is 3840 x 2160 pixels). Using the current terminology for HD, the 4k could be referred to as 2160HD. It is also known as Ultra-HD-1 resolution.
The 4k is basically equivalent to live streaming an 8 megapixel video, of which an uncompressed stream occupies around 12Gb/s, making it necessary to compress the 4k stream. While the H.264 compression can be applied to 4k video, more efficient video compression was needed; the H.265 (also known as high efficiency video codec – HEVC) was introduced two years ago.
An even more impressive format called 8k is currently being developed and tested, offering another quadrupled resolution to the 4k, with 7680 x 4320 pixels, which is almost 32 megapixels of live streaming video. This is known as Ultra-HD-2.
When viewing 4k and 8k video, a viewer sits closer to the display relative to the viewable details and this immerses the visual senses completely. It is said that the viewing experience is almost three-dimensional (3D) without having the 3D goggles. This was reported by many viewers watching the 2012 London Olympics with an experimental 8k video.
The CCTV industry always tries to minimise equipment costs while still maximising recorded pixels and extending storage time. This is not easily done, but the trends are certainly going in that direction. One way to reduce the cost of high-resolution cameras is to make the sensors smaller, despite increasing the number of pixels. Making smaller sensors means lenses with smaller projection circles, which means smaller lenses. Ultimately, smaller lenses mean less glass and lower cost.
Unfortunately, the miniaturisation of sensors means smaller pixels, and this in turn means more noise and less dynamic range. When imaging sensors become smaller and at the same time the number of pixels increase (for example, when going from HD to 4k), the result is even smaller pixels and even more noise. Smaller and more dense pixels require even better optics; better than what was in use in the analogue days. To top it off, more pixels means streaming more data, which in turn requires a better network and more storage.
At first glance, the above barriers to advancement make the new 4k (and certainly the upcoming 8k) almost impossible to implement, expensive and unattractive, to say the least. Yet the modern demand for more pixels, sharper details and larger storage is insatiable. This demand ultimately drives technology toward new solutions, better sensors, more storage, better lenses and, paradoxically, lower prices. This is important for the CCTV industry!
To illustrate, people with longer experience in the CCTV industry will remember that some of the first analogue CCD cameras, back in the early 1990s, were over $1,200 – and that was excluding the lens. Today, an HD or megapixel camera, with lens (even with a built-in zoom lens) and with smart electronics would cost no more than half the amount that it did two decades ago. Even the 4k models now appearing on the market are not a lot more expensive. Similarly, the first large LCD television sets from ten years ago were close to $10,000. Only a few years later, their prices plummeted to around $2,000. It is evident that 4k has arrived in consumer electronics as well, with 4k television sets costing nearly the same amount.
It should be unnecessary to forewarn future users of 4k CCTV cameras that it is pointless buying such cameras without having 4k-capable monitors. An HD monitor can be used since it has the same aspect ratio of 16:9, but do not forget that the standard HDMI cable will also need updating. The cables designed for 4k resolution are called display port cables; however, the latest HDMI v.1.4 will support 4k as well.
In most CCTV applications, using 4k cameras will be by way of using some version of Windows operating system, a super fast processor and super powerful graphics card. A 4k-capable computer display would be needed, of which there are very few at present. Most users would opt for a 4k TV display, which is physically much larger than a conventional computer monitor. A lot of processing power is needed to decode one or more 4k video streams and only the latest versions of Windows, with a special graphics card, may support 4k resolution.
When deciding on whether to implement 4k, users should take into account the above-mentioned considerations: smaller pixels, low light performance, the optics required, increased network bandwidth, storage load and demands on computer decoding power. Potential users should check all of this before deciding whether 4k is appropriate with the current computer hardware and software they own. If all of the above boxes are ticked, then go for it!
Many broadcast studios and production houses are already using 4k for their daily production. An Australian company, BlackMagic Design, is making very affordable yet excellent quality 4k cameras for video production. However, the broadcast industry makes good money through their productions and they do not shy away from spending good money for good results. While the CCTV industry has started to embrace the technology, in comparison, it is one of the most penny-pinching industries. It is not easy to be innovative in technology without prior training, learning and without spending money, even when all the boxes are ticked.
The 4k will certainly not be the concluding component in CCTV technology; it is just a part of the electronics industry’s advancement. It is always inspiring and encouraging in the CCTV industry when ‘new kids on the block’, such as the 4k, come along.
Vlado Damjanovski is an author, inventor, lecturer, and closed circuit television (CCTV) expert who is well-known within the Australian and international CCTV industry. Vlado has a degree in Electronics Engineering from the University Kiril & Metodij in Skopje (Macedonia), specialising in broadcast television and CCTV.
In 1995, Vlado published his first technical reference book – simply called CCTV, one of the first and complete reference manuals on the subject of CCTV. Now in its 4th edition, and translated into four languages, Vlado’s book is recognised the world over as one of the leading texts on CCTV.
Vlado is the current chairman of the CCTV Standards Sub-Committee of Australia and New Zealand. In his capacity as chief contributor, Vlado has helped create the Australian and New Zealand CCTV Standards (AS4806.1, AS4806.2 and AS4806.3).
He can be contacted through his website www.vidilabs.com